Word of Mouth

Top Chef All-Stars, second course: Is Jen a dinosaur?

Jennifer Carroll's meltdown when she got eliminated from last night's episode of Top Chef All-Stars was spectacular. She was graceless, almost out of control, so angry she clearly didn't know whether to laugh, cry or hit someone. She'd done a lot of bragging, and she'd also been exuding rage through much of the show -- presumably because she didn't come out too well in the first.

And, yes, that was irritating. But I'm also liking the newly pugilistic attitude of many of the contestants.

Over the years, I got tired of seeing talented chefs being lectured by self-righteous Tom Colicchio, patronized by beautiful Padma, and used as a punching bag by full-of-himself occasional judge Anthony Bourdain. (I know he's a lively, two-fisted writer and one hell of a personality, but how good is the man's cooking? Anyone know?) And Jen is, of course, a fiercely talented cook, one that everyone expected to be one of the finalists -- at least.

(On a similar note, last week's loser, Elia, has also broken theTop Chefcode of omerta. In a post-show interview, she attacked Colicchio as a sellout who uses corn- rather than grass-fed beef in his restaurants, and shills for corn-syrup-laden Pepsi. He saw fit to issue a lengthy response. I don't know about the beef -- or his restaurants -- but his assertion that it's Diet rather than regular Pepsi and hence doesn't contain corn syrup feels pretty lame to me.)

Other dramatic moments included: Tre's gorgeous, naked torso gleaming in the dim light of the museum, and Jamie cutting her finger and leaving the fray -- and her partner for the challenge, Jen -- to visit the hospital for stitches. Several of the others sneered: A chef doesn't desert his or her station for anything less than a sucking chest wound, they implied. And I couldn't help remembering Colorado's own Kelly Liken working away in Singapore with blood pulsing spasmodically into her glove.

So much drama so soon -- and so many contestants still -- that it's impossible to focus much on the food. The challenges weren't too cool, either. The Quickfire required the chefs to make treats for a bunch of kids having a slumber party at the Natural History Museum, results to be judged by Joe Jonas of the Jonas Brothers. (I wasn't alone in not knowing who he was; Dale T. wondered if he was some kind of pastry chef.) This meant everyone whisking together nasty concoctions featuring pretzels, graham crackers, marshmallows and sugar, sugar, sugar.

Spike and Tiffany tied for the win. He made carrot-potato chips and mascarpone-marshmallow-lime dip; she, having been chastised for arrogance in an earlier season because she made a dish too high-falutin' for children, tossed together everything sweet she could find for some kind of chocolate Rice Krispie ball. Because of the tie, the group separated into two teams to make these treats -- the kids would determine the winner with all the other contestants supposedly helping either Tiffani or Spike to win and gain immunity. Some were pretty good sports about it.

Not Jamie, who said she was uninterested in helping someone else win, and also that she disliked kids. This kind of statement normally gets my hackles up, but I have to admit the screaming, trash-strewing little monsters at the museum were awfully easy to dislike. (The cost of the sleepover, by the way, is $129 per person.)

Tiffani's sugar bombs won easily over Spike's carrot chips.

Exhausted and ready for sleep, the chefs were suddenly informed that their Elimination challenge would start immediately. They were to prepare breakfast for the children and their parents. In honor of the site, one team would be T-rex while the other represented the herbivorous brontosaurus. Winner Tiffani got to choose -- and chose T-rex -- without realizing this meant no grains, no hint of acid, not a speck of green. The Brontos brought it home, with Angelo, Marcel and Richard winning for a beautifully composed fruit parfait.

Almost all of the meat and egg dishes failed, though Tiffani and Dale L's steak with scrambled eggs was the best. Tiffany and Antonia created three kinds of frittata, all unevenly cooked. Casey prepared a nice salmon, but it was ruined by Tre's overly reduced and too-salty sauce. And Jen -- well, despite the soggy slab of bacon and under-seasoned eggs she produced -- I know we'll be hearing from her.

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Juliet Wittman is an investigative reporter and critic with a passion for theater, literature, social justice and food. She has reviewed theater for Westword for over a decade; for many years, she also reviewed memoirs for the Washington Post. She has won several journalism awards and published essays and short stories in literary magazines. Her novel, Stocker's Kitchen, can be obtained at select local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact: Juliet Wittman

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